Humanizing the Brand

Improving the consumer-producer relationship

By Chelsi Robichaud, Staff Writer

Words are often lost in translation. Effective communication is often difficult to achieve due to the plethora of languages used globally. Word choice can either be problematic or helpful, depending on the situation in international dealings.

According to the ComTranslation website, “an estimated 50% of social media users communicate in languages other than English”. They also state that 93% of marketers take advantage of the social media outlets.

How can we solve this communication problem?

ComTranslations think they have the answer.

The website states that social media translation services “can provide convenient, real time translations of Facebook posts, tweets, [etc…], or they can take full control of a social media campaign for maximum efficiency, tailoring various content and promotions/discounts to a language that maximizes their appeal.”

Mike W., a blogger for the ComTranslation website, explains that social media translation services will not only offer ways to connect people across the globe, but also intrigue a sense of gratification that will assist a business’s success.

“Fans and followers will genuinely appreciate a company or service that makes an extra effort to communicate with them in their own language,” Mike W. writes. “[…]That appreciation is sure to translate into business success.”

Is this a lucrative process? In the article “Word of mouth and social media” written by Allan J. Kimmel and Philip J. Kitchen, two French professors, many believe that the influence of brand products is huge. “Keller (2007) estimated that the average consumer in the USA was involved in over 120 brand-related WOM conversations each week, a number that has accelerated since then.”

It’s easy to recognize that people need to feel gratitude in order to appreciate. The question is: what’s the most efficient form of communication between businesses and their clients?

Let’s say a company uses Facebook as its primary source of social media. Their company page has many “likes”, and their advertisement appears well received.

According to an article titled “Beyond the ‘Like’ Button: The Impact of Mere Virtual Presence on Brand Evaluations and Purchase Intentions in Social Media Settings”, Rebecca Walker Naylor,et al., professors in Business, tell us that “a large number of ‘likes’ does not necessarily translate into meaningful outcomes.” So how can social media bring about these desirable outcomes for companies?

Simple. Speak the customer’s language.

Think of the dialogue between corporations and customers as a relationship between two friends. To be able to become close with someone, one has to meet a certain criterion.

Yet according an article by Anat Toder-Alon et al., professors from Peres Academic Center and Boston University, many executive members of companies don’t know how to join in on the conversations in social media.

“It is clear that ‘consumers increasingly go online to discuss products and brands, seek advice, and offer guidance. Yet, it’s often difficult to see where and how to influence these conversations.”

Furthermore, it is possible that the difficulty lies not only in discerning how to influence consumers, but in the executives’ comprehension of the subject.

“’The vast majority of executives have no idea how to harness social media’s power,” Anat Toder-Alon et al., explain.

Anat Toder-Alon et al., wrote this article in 2014. If it remains difficult to influence people, the area of social media monitoring will require much work and study.

The Relationship

Marcel Lebrun is the Chief Product Officer of Salesforce.com, and previously held the position CEO of Radian6. In 2011, Salesforce.com bought Radian6 for $326 million. Salesforce.com now participates in Marketing Cloud.

The technology Lebrun works with follows individual feedbacks on products through social media. Brands like Dell and Pepsi also make use of this innovative technology.

Salesforce.com released a piece of technology named the “Engagement Console”. According to the “Radian6 Engagement Console Preview” video, this program allows you to observe the comments of customers, as well as “tag your customers, hone in on particular instances” and note “which individuals should be listening to you.”

During an interview with Arbitrage Magazine, Lebrun emphasized the importance of trust between customers and the companies they buy from.

“Once I know you, I can pretty much predict how you behave,” says Lebrun. “So if you do something out of character, I can say : that’s not her.”

This applies to businesses as well. If you put your trust in a brand, and it ends up harming you or not living up to your expectations, the customer’s trust in this brand will quickly decline.

“With most institutions, consumer trust has been in decline,” says Lebrun. “Do people trust their governments more or less? They’ve seen all these issues. People trust companies less. Companies have fallen short, and disappointed them, and not done what they said they were going to do. Generally, consumers trust institutions less, but they trust their friends more. People believed that more than they do today, that a company would not harm them.”

This is why the opinions of customers are instrumental in the success of a company or a brand.

Trust isn’t based on the principle of mere familiarity. Between people, there has to be more than blind trust; for instance, a person would be apprehensive if their friend encouraged them to hop off a plane with no parachute based on their years of friendship.

“Trust isn’t so much: ‘I’ll follow you everywhere’,” Lebrun says. “Once I know you, I can predict how you behave. It’s the same with a brand.”

The idea of a distant, impersonal corporation is not an uncommon piece of imagery used in media. If a company wishes to create a good relationship between its clientele, then they have to create an image that shows care for its customer’s needs, wants, and most importantly, opinions.

Data Collection

Collecting this data is not incredibly difficult. There are many different mediums to choose from, like Facebook, Twitter and online blogs that are easily accessible on the internet.

According to Grant Blank, a professor at the Oxford Internet Institute, “data can be obtained without the subject being aware they are being observed.” This may appear slightly invasive to Twitter users – but then again, when individuals make their information public, they can’t blame analysts for taking advantage of it.

“Since the data are already in digital form they are much easier to gather, store and manipulate, compared to paper,” writes Blank. “Social media often record actual behaviour or actual communication in the form of Tweets, emails or blog posts, so researchers don’t have to depend on self-reports and the uncertain memory of respondents.”

However, there are issues with this form of data collection.

“Hard-to-reach populations like the elderly, the poor and the uneducated, remain hard to reach online,” Blank explains in his article.

Since the internet is accessible by a large percentage of the world’s population, forums and reviews are becoming more and more trustworthy. Businesses may claim one thing or another about their product, but with the use of social media, a brand’s image relies more and more on individuals using their products.

“The customer has now a lot more power in shaping and influencing the perceptions of your brand than you do,” states Lebrun, in an interview with Brian Solis.

Sylvie Roland, et al., professors at Dauphine and Grenobles University speak to the same message by quoting Vargo & Lusch in their article “The benefit of social media”:  “Marketing is no longer a case of diffusing value to consumers but of co-creating value with them.”

But does the producer-consumer relationship go beyond values?

“I think what’s revolutionary about social media is that it is a medium that talks back,” says Lebrun. “Customers can talk back, which they couldn’t before. Marketers have learned that co-creating values is one aspect, but it is now a dialogue.”

In his interview with Arbitrage, Lebrun mentioned a story involving customer service provided by AOL (America Online). The person involved in the debacle is named Vincent Ferrari. In 2006, Ferrari tried to cancel his account with AOL.

The representative who spoke with him on the phone tried to deflect his request. Eventually the conversation turned to Ferrari repeating, “cancel my account” over and over into the phone. In total, it took him over twenty minutes to close down his account.

Social media is critical in this story. Ferrari posted his story online, and the blogosphere began circulating the information. Soon Ferrari was invited to speak on live television. AOL responded by firing the employee and issuing an apology letter. Customers hold immense power in deciding the fate of a brand, and social media is a key element in the promulgation of information.


How important is culture in social media around the world? Kendal Goodrich and Marieke de Mooij believe it is very important. In their article titled “How ‘social’ are social media? A cross-cultural comparison of online and offline purchase decision influences”, they observe the variety in social media usage around the globe.

“People around the world still need to feel culturally engaged with vendors,” Goodrich and Mooij write. “Or else they will find another place to buy.”

People discuss different things depending on their geographical location. For example, certain global crises are presented in North America, but beyond that, the West is presented with news and entertainment focusing on one’s own environment. The same applies to countries all around the world.

When looking at social media across the world, it is clear that the prominent reason of usage for many websites is to keep in touch with the individuals. It is based on human interactions.

Though Facebook may appear as the most prominent social media site, countries such as China use Facebook less, since they have their own websites. The most popular Chinese social networking website is Qzone, with approximately 712 million users.

This differing use of social media networks is explained by an analysis of the defining characteristics of a culture’s consumerist behaviours.

“In individualistic cultures, information is an all-encompassing need,” Goodrich and Mooij explain. “Whereas in collectivistic and high PDI cultures, trustworthiness and the opinions of others are more important.”

The American Red Cross conducted a survey on the possibility of using social media services during a global crisis. According to an article written by Ya Jin et al., professors from the Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Maryland and Elon University, “69% of adults believe that emergency responders should be monitoring social media sites to quickly send help, and 74% expect response agencies to answer social media calls for help within an hour.”

The use of social media by brands to create dialogues with customers and assume a more transparent and honest position has shown desirable results.

“I think the concept of ‘social’ is a differentiating adjective we use […] because ‘social’ is changing everything,” explains Lebrun. “The term is going to fade eventually, not because it’s a fad but because it’s just going to be adopted. Like, who talks about digital phones? We don’t anymore, right, because all the phones are digital. But they’re all digital.”

Translation services in social media will profit from not only making Facebook and Twitter posts available in an efficient language, but will help the social sphere open up to people by humanizing the process of their assistance.

Chelsi Robichaud is a Bachelor of Humanities student at Carleton University in Ottawa. In her free time, she enjoys creative writing and playing the harp and piano. 

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